Mrs. James rises from behind her desk and holds out a hand which Lewis and I shake in turn. I would have expected the headmistress of an alternative school like Burgdorf to be relaxed, easygoing, even a bit hippyish, but Ruth James is none of those things. In her mid-fifties with a steel-gray bob and pale blue eyes, she is elegant and dignified and more than a bit remote. Sometimes I wonder how much of Burgdorf’s philosophy she actually believes in. Maybe this was the only headship she could get.
She waits for us to sit before sitting down herself and then folding her hands on the desk in front of her.
“Obviously you know about Ben Reese’s accident yesterday,” she begins, and Lewis and I both gape.
“I’m sorry, we weren’t aware that Ben had an accident,” I say after a few seconds’ silence. “Is he all right?”
Mrs. James’s eyes narrow and her lips purse. “No, he is not. He is in the hospital with a serious brain injury.”
“Oh, no.” Shock ices through me. How will Josh cope without Ben, his best and only friend? And then I feel ashamed because I am thinking of Josh, rather than Ben, who sounds like he is seriously injured. “I’m so sorry,” I say.
“Josh didn’t tell you?” Mrs. James says after another expectant pause, and I feel my face heat even as my hands go clammy. Josh’s sorrowful silence last night makes sense now, but why wouldn’t he tell us his friend was hurt? Why wouldn’t he share something like that?
“No, he didn’t,” I say, because how can I say anything else? I glance at Lewis; he is silent and stony-faced, but I see how his face is pale with shock. We endure another few seconds’ silence.
“Don’t you think,” Mrs. James finally says, her gaze swiveling from me to Lewis, “that’s rather odd?”
I glance again at Lewis; he has folded his arms and is staring straight ahead.
“Yes,” I finally say. I meet Mrs. James’s gaze, squaring my shoulders. “Yes, I do think it is rather odd. But there must be an explanation.”
“There is,” Mrs. James answers, and now her voice sounds decidedly cool. She draws herself up, her steely gaze moving between the two of us. “The truth is, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor-Davies,” she says, “I have reason to believe that Josh pushed Ben.”